Things I’ve Forgotten About Cycling
Today I completed a beach-life rite of passage: I used my bicycle as transportation on an actual road with cars.
To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t used a bike as transportation in about a dozen years. I got myself a beach cruiser from a local gentleman a few weeks ago because as I’ve mentioned in past articles, I need my fitness to be fun. Riding a bike around the neighborhood has proved the adage true — I certainly haven’t forgotten how to ride a bike. But there is a lot of nuance to bike-riding, especially riding on the roads, something I didn’t do a lot of as a child.
So of course, like so many of us, I went to the internet to research bike-riding pointers. I highly recommend this approach to any would-be cyclist. A great page to start is Potomac Pedalers: DC/NOVA/MD Bike Laws
But today, while I rode my bike to the library, cars buzzing by me, I realized that internet research isn’t everything. I present What I Read and What I Learned: Bike Safety Edition.
What I read: Look out for cars!
Cars are the obvious Big Bad of bicyclists. I was petrified of cars and spent weeks just tooling around our quiet neighborhood before I could muster up the courage to ride alongside cars. It took a few rides before I could bravely share the road with the slow creeping cars of my neighborhood without pulling over to watch them go by. Cars are indeed scary when you’re cycling, and just one road ride will turn you into a more attentive driver — I never noticed how many people pull forward from a stop without looking up from their cell phones until today.
What I learned: Look out for everything!
However, cars are FAR from the only hazard on the road. Pedestrians in parking lots pose a specific danger. Where people will wait for a car to pass, they will hop out in front of your bike. As a bike is still considered a vehicle, it is your duty as a cyclist to give pedestrians the right of way. And while bumping into a pedestrian on a bike is thankfully much less likely to hurt the pedestrian than the same accident while I’m in my car — it’s far more likely to injure me as the rider.
Additionally, roadside debris is also quite the challenge. In addition to the expected fast food cups and such, I dodged broken buckets, luggage and car parts on today’s afternoon ride.
What I read: Your bike may require regular maintenance
Most of the reading I did suggested that all cyclists learn basic maintenance for their bikes. Pumping and changing tires, greasing the chain and other simple tweaks can mean the difference between a rough ride and smooth sailing. As I am spending my summer in a beach town, I wasn’t terribly worried. I ride on nice paved roads, and it’s just over a mile to the nearest coffee house, library and grocery store. I’ll learn that stuff later.
What I learned: I’m surprised this baby doesn’t fall apart
My goodness. I had no idea the things I’d encounter in a mile ride to the library. In my car I never notice potholes, cracks in the road, patches of sand and speed bumps. While there are certainly bikes made to handle all that and more, mine isn’t one of them. My 1981 aluminum beach cruiser is cute for sure, but going over a curb in that baby feels rough.
What I read: Signal with your arms
In some places, this is a law. It’s certainly safe riding. There are three universally-accepted bicycle operator hand gestures, as follows:
- Left turn — Hold your arm out straight from your body to the side.
- Right turn — Hold your arm out to the side with your arm bent at 90 degrees, facing upward.
- Stop or slow — Hold your arm out to the side with your arm bent at 90 degrees, facing downward.
What I learned: Practice riding with one hand.
Riding with one hand takes a little bit of skill, especially if you’ve got a load on your back, a fixed gear bike or are pedaling uphill. I highly recommend a new cyclist take those practice rides around the neighborhood I mentioned, to learn the nuances of turning around, braking on a dime and one-handed riding before you try riding on the road.
What I read: Wear a helmet!
In Washington D.C, this is the law for people under 16. They’re a good idea for everyone else, and no, they’re not typically cute. Thankfully some folks have caught on, and vendors such as Yakkay and Nutcase have provided fashionable options, whether you prefer the equestrian helmet look or think it would be cute to look like you’re wearing a watermelon rind on your noggin.
What I learned: This is no joke.
The best argument here is the story that convinced me about helmets, and it’s a better story than I can write for you, so I link it here: A Tip of the Helmet to My Helmet
Take one look at that smushed Styrofoam and tell me your hairstyle is more important, readers!
Until next week, ride safe and keep your workouts fun!
Health editor, Tini Howard is a writer, aerialist and foodie from the East Coast.